In this day and age, 3D animated films aimed at kids are common. Don't get me wrong, that doesn't instantly make them bad. Pixar Animation Studios have produced some of the finest animated films the film industry has seen, and Disney's recent Tangled was a huge step forward for the standard of their recent animations. But amongst these colourful animated films that use 3D for no real reason, it's great to see an adult themed computer animated feature that dismisses 3D in the form of Rango.
Now when I say adult themed, I don't mean the film has an overabundance of sex references, foul language or disturbing violence. If I'm honest, kids could still enjoy this film (as I found out when one wouldn't shut up laughing in the cinema), but once you see the bleak, dirty style of the animation, it's clear that this isn't a colourful kiddie flick. And after witnessing some of the themes (such as Rango's identity crisis), not to mention the cruel intentions of the villains, you'll see how the movie stands out so well.
Our main character is a pet chameleon named Rango, voiced flawlessly by Johnny Depp, who seeks to find out who he is. After becoming stranded in the Mojave Desert, he stumbles across Dirt, a town suffering from decreasing water reserves. He finds himself appointed the Sheriff and eventually tangled up in a multitude of situations that will force him to become the hero instead of merely playing it.
The film is beautifully animated throughout. All the animation was done by Industrial Light & Magic (a huge contributor to Hollywood special effects), and it leans more toward realism rather than trying to imitate a cartoon or hand drawn style. The desert scenery often looks like the real thing, and the characters are modelled through a blend of realism and cartoony designs. As a result, the whole film looks incredibly dry (which fits in with the main plot element of the film) yet each character clearly has it's own personality and doesn't simply look like a rendering of a real life animal. This unique animation style is what makes the film truly stand out amongst other animated flicks, and really helps set the serious tone. The several action sequences throughout the film are also well done, and although a bit jarring, provide the thrills that you'd expect from the genre. The Western theme is captured perfectly through the aforementioned desert scenics along with the orchestral, Western inspired soundtrack composed by the masterful Hans Zimmer. If you don't know who he is, you're a bit of an idiot.
I was disappointed by Rattlesnake Jake, who seemed like a brilliant villain in the trailers. Whilst his sinister nature is captured excellently through Bill Nighy's voice over, as well as his sick personality, he is not in the film for very long. It spends ages building up to his appearance (sometimes completely forgetting about him) and when he debuts, the film's nearly over. I can overlook this slightly as it seems he's not the central villain, but it's still disappointing to see such a menacing character slightly wasted.
Despite that minor shortcoming, all of the characters are often brilliant. The voice acting is top notch throughout, giving the characters a lot of personality and life. Some of the best actors were Johnny Depp himself as well as Bill Nighy as Rattlesnake Jake and Ned Beatty as Tortoise John. Honourable mentions also go to Alfred Molina as Roadkill and Ray Winstone as Bad Bill. There's really not one voice actor in the entire cast who performs badly, and all the characters are truly brought to life through these fantastic voice overs.
The characters use somewhat mature words such as "tart", "floozy", "damn" and "hell" at certain parts, which fits the mature tone of the film. The morals are also a good reason why kids won't enjoy this film as much as adults will; they're very strong and kids simply won't get them. Rango's identity crisis is rather saddening toward the films climax, and there's a lot of satirical references in the films jokes, which will roll right over the kids heads. This movie is clearly intended for a smart and mature audience, and isn't for everyone. But that's not essentially a bad thing.
I'd definitely recommend this movie to anyone considering seeing it. It's unique, funny and contains some strong emotional themes that really make you feel for the characters. Despite my minor grudge with the villains, the story plays out nicely and is a lot deeper than those of other recent animated films. As I previously said, this movie isn't for everyone, so don't think of rushing out to show it to your kids thinking they will lap up a series of colourful animal characters and childish humour. They won't. If you're interested in this film based on the trailers (or even this review), then I'd definitely recommend you see it.